Trading places

change your lifeEarlier this week, a woman I admire bravely hugged her 14YO son goodbye as he set off on a European adventure. Underneath a healthy dose of momma-trepidation, she’s thrilled for him to have this experience. We’ve had a few conversations about what he’ll gain from it, and I–for the millionth time–thought, We need more international youth exchange programs.

Then this morning, a colleague forwarded an article about the Christian church struggling to come to terms with racism. (You can read it HERE, if you’re interested.) It’s crazy to me how segregated the vast majority of American churches remain, and I thought, We really need a church exchange program.

Somehow that thought took me back nearly twenty years, when I was a young whippersnapper with all the answers at a global company. Every time someone from a non-US location would visit or one of my American colleagues would grouse about someone from “over there” just not getting it, I’d think, We really need a business exchange program. In fact, I even tried to float it by HR a couple of times.

Then I remembered that a couple of months ago, while I visited the parent company of my current employer, I was confronted by the diversity of the different lines of business housed in each of our subsidiaries. I found myself surprised at how uninformed our parent was about what we do, and vice versa. Again I thought, We really need a company exchange program.

It seems to have become second nature for me to think of a culture swap any time communication or behavioral hurdles arise, and I thank my experience with youth exchange for that. You see, immersing oneself in a different culture–whether it be geographical, religious, commercial, racial, or pretty much anything else–allows you to get a little bit closer to understanding the why in someone else’s actions. It also breaks relationships into individual encounters, rather than sweeping judgments about a broader group. It not only shapes the person going on the exchange, but also the people receiving her on the other end.

If I had to pick a metaphor to describe the effects of exchange, it would look something like this video that went viral yesterday (PLEASE watch it):

https://www.nbcnews.com/widget/video-embed/1254293059903

As the winning pitcher consoles the friend he just struck out, I’m internally screaming YES! YES! YES! We CAN be friends with someone on a different team.

So get out there and explore someone else’s world. Get to know your neighbors, near and far. Spend time with people who don’t look/think/eat/believe like you. They might be across the ocean or across the street. We don’t always have to agree, but we’ll all be better for it.

P.S. Thanks, Amy, for giving your son this incredible gift.

P.P.S. Here’s a link to another article, shared recently by a friend. Kumbaya, everyone.

Discography

06_Cervical_MRI_scan_R_T1WFSE_G_T2WfrFSE_STIR_BFor well over a year, maybe a year and a half, I’ve been plagued by a steadily worsening, sore shoulder. Some days it bothered me so much that it limited how far I could run, because even just holding up my arm was too much. Even so, I figured I could tough it out until it eventually healed itself.

After nearly a year of ridiculous denial, punctuated occasionally by internet searches that told me I suffered from maladies ranging from stress to cancer, I finally went to the doctor. Four hundred dollars and an MRI later, I learned my shoulder pain actually radiated from a bulging disc in my neck. Good to know.

A spinal cortisone shot and many more dollars later, nothing had changed. I frittered away the calendar days suffering in (relative) silence until I found myself a quarter of the way into a new year and a new, unmet deductible. That seemed as good a time as any to finally pick up the script the doctor had written and make an appointment for physical therapy.

Two months later, I’ve found significant relief. I had started to believe the light at the end of the tunnel was getting pretty bright–until last weekend. I had a regression, and many of my symptoms came back hot-and-heavy.

The thing is, I knew it was my fault. I had gotten sloppy with my posture again. It’s not comfortable to stand/sit up straight all the time. All those neglected muscles get sore from walking around at attention. It’s so much easier to just relax in a slouch. After all, I feel kind of silly carrying myself like a soldier, and it takes so much focus to not slip into old habits. (Excuses, excuses.)

Even so, I knew when I went back to PT this morning that I needed to fess up and ask for a taping treatment.* I really, really, really didn’t want to; it’s not super comfortable to maintain a rigid posture when you’re body’s not used to it, and sometimes it gives me a slightly claustrophobic feeling. Oh, and did I mention that after awhile, it makes my back itchy. No, no, no…please no.

But I did it. I asked to be taped again, because I knew that whatever amount of discomfort I would experience would ultimately lead to the healing of my root problem.

And there’s the metaphor.

Another kind of therapist–the head kind–tried and tried to tell me that years ago, though I shunned her advice. It figures that my stubbornness only led to being presented with the same lesson in a physical manifestation.

Sometimes you have to go through hurt so you can heal.

*My PT uses a technique where he applies tape to a patient in slightly exaggerated, good posture. When the patient starts to slouch or to return to bad form, the tape pulls, giving a physical reminder of the lapse. Essentially, it gently forces the patient to maintain good posture. Different problem areas call for different taping techniques. If you don’t believe me, you can learn more HERE.

My checkered past

The_Childrens_Museum_of_Indianapolis_-_CheckersReminiscing with my dad the other day, we started talking about the way different family members had shaped our lives–even through lessons they may have never intended to teach.

Enter my grandpa.

I was by far his favorite granddaughter–so what if I was the ONLY granddaughter he knew before he died–and we adored each other. He was sick a lot in the years I had with him, so our time was spent mostly indoors, where he would read or recite poetry to me and we would play games.

Grandpa was a killer checkers player, and even at five and six years old, I couldn’t wait to break out the board. It didn’t matter that I never won; I could feel myself getting better each time, and I just KNEW that the next time we played, I was going to win.

Of course, I never won. Ever. As much as he loved me, Grandpa never let me win. What would have been the purpose? Having achieved my goal, I likely would have flitted to a new favorite pastime, and I definitely wouldn’t have learned much.

Grandpa really played it smart. He could have trounced me from the get-go, but I probably would have lost interest pretty quickly. Instead, he backed off his game just enough to keep me engaged. Every game played meant I learned something new about strategy. I remember him pointing out moves and showing what I could have done, my young brain eager to take it all in. (Once in a while he even let me have a do-over so I could take advantage of the move he had just shown me. He did have a soft spot for me, after all.) I kept playing and playing, my little bitty self just knowing the next game would be my first win.

Although my grandpa died when I was just eight years old, his lessons have affected me all my life. Earn your win. Learn along the way. Spend time with people you love.

Splitting hairs

MF2-2201I work in a building full of office suites, and everyone on the same floor shares a restroom. Frequently, I cross paths there with a woman from a neighboring company, and she almost always comments on my hair–its thickness, the cut, the color. This woman always makes me feel good about a feature that normally gives me a lot of headaches (yeah, I did that on purpose), especially when I’ve never seen her anything but perfectly coiffed.

Until today.

I walked into the restroom, where she stood in front of the mirror with her head bent down. She popped up like a shot when I said hello and immediately began apologizing. I didn’t understand what was going on. I thought she had just been brushing her hair, but she was super embarrassed and said as much.

It turns out that my office neighbor wears a wig. When I walked into the bathroom, she had just put it back on and was adjusting its fit. She told me how several years ago she had experienced a period of extreme stress and lost much of her hair. Of course, the hair loss added to her stress and contributed to this vicious cycle. Eventually she bought a wig to relieve herself of at least that worry.

We had a nice chat, in which I told her I had no idea her beautiful ‘do was actually a wig. (I really didn’t.) When I finally walked back to my office, I couldn’t help thinking that there was a lesson in this. I could never figure out why this lady seemed so fascinated with my hair when hers was always perfect. Now I know that the story ran much deeper.

What a great reminder that things aren’t always what they seem. Everyone has a story, and it’s probably not the one we imagine from the outside looking in.

Behavior modification

I’m actually kind of shocked that no one mentioned that the same lessons I want to teach my daughter, noted last week in my post Best behavior, would be just as valuable to my maba_pleasebemindful_signson. In fact, I was kicking myself for not acknowledging this in my post, because it’s 100% true. In any case, something had me thinking about my daughter that day and how girls need strong role models, and well, I won’t bore you with the rest. Just know that I desperately want my son to benefit equally from those lessons.

Which brings me to today’s musings. I had a conversation a couple of days ago with a friend, who shared with me her escalating frustration with her ex. The guy lives a couple of hours away, so they meet in the middle to pick up/drop off their son for visitation. It seems that lately, Mr. Ex has been getting quite handsy with my friend.

She told me that it started with Mr. Ex grabbing her backside while she was buckling her school-aged son into his car seat. She ignored it, but she noticed that her son was positioned to see everything.

The next time, Mr. Ex got bolder. He made the same grabbing move, but this time on the front side–if you know what I mean. My friend swatted his hand away and silently swallowed her indignation. Once again, she tried to ignore it.

I asked her why she didn’t tell him to keep his hands to himself (read: to get the he** away from her). She gave me an answer about not wanting her son to see his mom and dad fighting or to see his dad in a bad light or some such.

Back. The. Truck. Up.

I couldn’t stop myself from blurting, So you want your son to think that it’s okay to touch women inappropriately and without their permission? You want him to think it’s no big deal for a married man to grope a woman who is not his wife? You want him to grow up thinking this behavior is perfectly normal?

My friend stopped for a second and blinked. She hadn’t thought of it that way at all. She hadn’t realized that her lack of response was also teaching him a lesson.

My friend is a contemplative woman; she been on a constant journey of self-examination for the past several years. I know she has been chewing on this since our conversation, and I’m pretty sure she’ll handle similar circumstances much differently from now on–for her son’s sake, if not her own.

As I thought about her situation, it just reinforced my conviction about sending messages with our behavior. What we don’t do can be just as powerful as what we do.

Be mindful, always.

PS. In case you were wondering, my friend gave me permission to share her story here. 

Best behavior

Mothering a daughter is hard, especially a strong-willed, independent-thinking, highly emotional daughter. And most especially the teenage variety of said daughter. She’s smart and funny and caring and I generally love being around her, but it’s still challenging.

I try to be conscious of my actions. After all, she’s been watching me for the past sixteen years and I’m her role model whether I like it or not. On my good days and bad days, she’s taking it all in.

She’s a big part of the reason I walked away from a long-term job with a fair amount of responsibility a few years ago. I wanted her to see how important it is to pursue fulfillment over a fat paycheck.

And I certainly thought about what she would learn if I didn’t end an unhealthy dating relationship not long ago. I wanted her to see how important it is to stand up for oneself and to walk away from situations that may steal one’s self-respect.

It’s also crazy important to me that she sees me interact amicably with her father and her stepmother. She needs to know–to see–the positive effects of releasing grudges and moving forward, that sometimes you can love someone (your kids!) so much that you work through things for their benefit, even when it’s hard.

I want my daughter to absorb my actions and not just hear my words.

Doesn’t that all sound great and honorable? Unfortunately, I’m only thinking consciously about this stuff about ten percent of the time. The other ninety percent, I forget to be intentional and I’m just…me. Whyohwhyohwhyohwhy is it so hard for me to remember that she’s watching everything, not just the lessons I’ve identified?

I can handle a full-blown crisis like a pro, but insult my intelligence, stomp on my pride, or hit me with a steady stream of attitude and all bets are off. Let’s just say my lackluster everyday frustration management skills might be a little more visible than I’d like. That’s not the best scenario for a mom with an already outspoken, highly emotional pair of teenage eyes on her.

I also tend to think out loud, so I go down a lot of rabbit holes before I end up on the right track. know I’m just working through an idea before I take (what I hope to be) rational action, but what does she think as she observes my process?

You’d get bored and I’d get embarrassed if I continued laying out my everyday faux pas. My point is that unfortunately, we don’t get to pick and choose which lessons our kids learn from us. While I’m happy with some of the big things, this light bulb moment has helped me realize that I need to be equally diligent about the little things, too.

The best I can hope now is that someday she’ll look back and realize that in addition to being a mom and a role model, I’m also human.

Poll position

Election dayMy state’s primary elections took place today and it was a big deal. Probably not so much for everyone else, mind you, but today marked a milestone moment for me. When the election volunteer asked me which party’s ballot I wanted this morning, for the first time in thirty years–three decades!–I gave a different answer than I ever have. The world may not have cracked in two, but I felt a fissure in my soul. (Side note: I’m not going to open a party debate here, friends, so don’t even try. The point is my change itself, not the why.)

This one, short encounter stirred up so many issues for me that I hardly know where to start, the party issue notwithstanding.  But here I go, of course. I don’t have the answers, so consider this food for thought.

First of all, why do we have to have party-specific primaries? I have never in my life voted a straight ticket in a general election, so why should I have to in a primary? I understand that in our two-party system this may have arguable merits. Then again, why are we stuck in a two-party system when, in this country of 300+ million people, it is nearly impossible to align the spread of everyone’s views into two neat columns?

On a peripheral note, the poll worker asked me out loud in an open room which ballot I wanted. That kind of defeats the purpose of a secret ballot, don’t you think? Everything else I needed to do this morning took place on an iPad–scanning my ID, verifying my address, signing in–so why couldn’t there have been a check box on the electronic form that didn’t force me to announce my choice to the room at large? (In the interest of full disclosure, by the time I arrived at my polling place, I had already seen an online post from a friend that read, “A pin could drop in here and the intake process requires you to designate your political party out loud in front of everyone. Our system is hilarious.” I was already stewing about this when I arrived.)

And my polling place was in a church. That in itself actually does not offend me; there was no proselytizing, no overt or covert pressure–it was just a big building with enough room for a lot of people, whose caretakers had graciously offered its use to the government. As I thought about it, though, I wondered whether synagogues and mosques were also being used similarly, so I looked it up. It seems as though synagogues may be more widely used than mosques, but there are a handful of the latter designated as polling places sprinkled around the country. Still, something feels off. (I found this interesting article from the Orlando Sentinel in my queries.) There is definitely a level of discomfort associated with using particular types of religious gathering places as polling sites. I say make it all or none.

That brings me to another point. Why do we vote on Tuesdays? Okay, so we’ve started to offer some early voting opportunities, but jeez-Louise, why do we make this so hard? People work, for Pete’s sake. Kids need to be hauled to school, to practice, to appointments. Finding time to squeeze in a vote isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Other countries designate a weekend day; we could do the same. Yes, I know people also work on the weekends, but we could keep the polls open for the full 24 hours of the day. And oh, since schools are closed on weekends, we could use those great big public buildings as polling places and eliminate the house-of-worship issue. Just a thought.

All that said, I feel passionately that it is my right and privilege to vote. My government has given me a voice, and by golly, I’m going to use it. I haven’t missed too many elections since I became of legal age to cast my ballot, and I don’t plan to in the future. For years I went at 6am so I could take my kids with me before school started. They asked more, deeper questions every year, and I’m pretty sure everyone around me in line got an unintentional civics lesson those days. Flawed as it is, I believe in democracy (technically a republic, but that’s splitting hairs).

If you’ve got the chance, go vote. Add your voice to the rising chorus of this country. Hopefully someday soon we’ll find a beautiful harmony.

Lessons learned

Teacher-writing-on-blackboard564My kid will be home from college in a few days (four, but who’s counting?), and boy-oh-boy, have I learned a lot this year. Yes, you read that correctly. I, THE MOM, have learned a lot from my boy’s first college year.

When I started this post, I intended to write about all the things my boy has conquered, is in the process of conquering, or even wants to conquer. If you read The pomp following the circumstances, you’ll remember that his academic journey hasn’t been easy. Now that he’s finding his footing, I realized that the rest of the story–still being written–is his to tell.

So I’ll tell you mine.

After years of trying to find the right buttons to push, I’ve handed my bub the control panel. That hasn’t been easy, but it hasn’t killed me, either. In fact, I’m starting to like it.

Here’s what I’ve taken away from these first two semesters.

  1. True motivation comes from within. We all know this, right? The concept is easy enough to apply to ourselves, especially when we want to push back against someone who is pushing us to do something. I’ll do it when I’M ready, not when you tell me to. Or think about any time you’ve tried to lose weight for a wedding, a high school reunion, or a trip to the beach. I don’t know about you, but once the event is over, I jump right back into my old habits. Oh, it’s not intentional, but once the external motivator has passed, I’m rudderless. So how does this apply to my first year as a college mom? I’ve had to recognize that my boy has to find his motivation the same way. I can’t push and prod and cajole and wheedle him into learning, not at this level. I can and will support him any way he wants me to, but the drive has to be all his. Not being there to look over his shoulder has helped us both grow up.
  2. Sometimes you have to screw up to understand the lesson. Failure is a part of life; it teaches you how to handle adversity. You learn what doesn’t work so you can get right back to trying what does. (CLICK HERE to check out this short vid if you question the value of failure. It’s worth the eleven minutes.) I screw up all the time, and it teaches me to not do the same thing in the same way if I want to succeed. That may seem self-evident, but when it comes to my kids, reason flies out the window. I know it in my head,  but in my heart, Momma wants to make it all better. … You know what’s coming. I got a phone call from my son midway through the first semester. He had screwed up, and he called to tell me about it. Thankfully, I kept my mouth shut and listened. I found that he was mad at himself for being stupid, and he had already taken steps to deal with the incident. He had a plan and he followed through on it, correcting his mistake and moving forward. The phone call wasn’t to ask for help. It was to give me the courtesy of letting me know. Lesson learned–for both of us.
  3. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. I’m usually the first person to share introspective commentary; heck, I have years of blog posts to show for it. But those are for me. If you find value in them, great, but my kids? I have to protect them! Keep them safe! I have to take care of things! Umm…yeah. Clearly humility is not my strong suit. It’s pretty egotistical to think I can fix everything, and it’s downright selfish to buffer them from life’s important lessons. If I had to learn them on my own, they probably do, too.
  4. Letting go is rewarding. I’m much better at the end of this year than I was at the beginning, but I still have a lot to learn. It hasn’t always been easy (though the miles have helped to remove daily interaction in the minutiae), but I love this new phase. The conversations about philosophy and politics and just regular life stuff have started to outweigh the exchanges about logistics and to-do lists. I’m seeing him as a person and not just my kid–and I really, really like this guy.

It’s hard to helicopter from 1100+ miles away, so I’ve had to assume a sit-back-and-try-to-relax posture. Some of my lessons have been hard-won, and others have sneaked up on me. Hopefully they’ve sunk in. Spending the next three months under the same roof will make it easy to slip back into old habits; check back with me at the end of the summer to see if I’ve really taken these lessons to heart.

P.S. I’ve got one more year till my daughter leaves for college. She’s a completely different personality, so I suspect I’ll be blessed with a whole different set of lessons. Stand by.

When I grow up

208247_5887814934_3245_nWhat do you want to be when you grow up?

How many times were you asked that question as a child? How many times have you asked it? Do you know the answer?

It’s a tough question, mostly because we feel limited by the labels in some mythic index of occupations. Besides that, things change. Technology changes. Society changes. Needs change. People change. Very few people carry that same dream forward and can actually present a business card bearing the label they casually (or passionately, in some cases) spouted.

I don’t know a single kid who would have said, I want to be an insurance salesperson! But I do know people who sell insurance–and even reinsurance–who absolutely love their jobs. They love helping people feel secure and protecting their assets.

I don’t know a single kid who would have said, I want to be a be a logistics manager! But I do know logistics managers who find tremendous satisfaction in putting together intricate delivery plans to ensure that their customers have what they need, when they need it. They love knowing that their work keeps factories running.

I don’t know a single kid who would have said, I want to be a customer service rep! But I do know plenty of customer service reps who become energized by helping people get what they need. They love solving problems, fulfilling orders, and making connections.

*Cut to real life.*

One of my friends is looking for a job. His life path has removed him from the corporate frenzy for several years, and now he’s looking to rejoin the fray. When we talked about this, I found myself asking, What do you want to do? Of course, I was looking for a label to slap on his forehead so I could drop him into a category. Then I’d know which direction to point him.

He didn’t give me a clear answer, probably because he didn’t have one. Instead, our conversation digressed into the verbal pinpricks we like to inflict on each other. Slightly annoyed, I finally said, “You need to find a way to get paid for exasperating people.”

Boom.

I thought I had landed a jab and we’d move on. Then I started thinking about it. What if he could find a way to get paid for exasperating people? I concocted a plan and pitched it to him:

You could totally sell it. Call yourself a change agent and get hired for short-term gigs by companies that are having a hard time changing “the way they’ve always done it.” Your entire job would be to sit in meetings and be contrary. Force people to think differently by answering your pain-in-the-a$$ questions.

Maybe it sounds like a crazy idea, but I know lots of companies who could use this kind of thing. (And if you label yourself a consultant, they might even buy it.)

Anyway, that got me thinking about how we limit ourselves with labels. Crazy ideas like this don’t come from trying to fit someone in a box–and we need more crazy ideas so we can come up with some good ones in the process. We have to think bigger than labels.

Instead of asking what someone wants to be, maybe the better questions are What do you like to do? What problems do you want to solve? What is your passion? It might be hard to give that destination a name, but I’ll bet you find the journey more fulfilling.

When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life. (Attributed to John Lennon)

Never forget

Humankind-Be-Both-Button-(0127)Yesterday I left my family’s Thanksgiving festivities feeling full, not only of food, but also–and especially–of love and warmth and goodwill. Compared to most of the world, I have a lot. My modest house might need a good cleaning, but it keeps me safe from the elements and has more than enough room for my kids, my dog and me. I live on a budget like everyone else, but my family has never lacked food or clothing or health care. I’ve gotten to see much of the world, Most importantly, I have a big, quirky, loving family with open hearts.

All those things were in my psyche, if not my consciousness, yesterday when I saw a woman standing on a corner not two blocks from the feast I had just left, tapping her wrist questioningly in the universal symbol of “What time is it?” I slowed to a stop, rolled down the passenger window, and leaned across my daughter to tell the woman it was close to 5pm.

She needed a ride to the next bus stop, she said. She wanted to take the city bus downtown to the Greyhound station, where she would catch a ride to Wisconsin and her grandmother’s funeral. She was sad and she needed help.

As my so-called street smarts kicked in and an invisible voice told me “Drive away, Tammy, this is a bad idea,” I heard myself telling my son to make room for the woman in the back seat. I’ll spare you the details, but the ride to the bus stop turned into tears and a donation of $40 for the ticket. By the time I let the woman out of the car to make her way to Greyhound, I felt more than a little uneasy and wondered if I had been the one who had just been taken for a ride. I’m doubtful that the woman actually took that bus trip.

I had helped someone in need, but I felt bad. It bothered me all night long and into today, until I recounted the scenario to my brother.

My big-hearted bro had no words for me but my own. He reminded me that over the past couple of weeks, as I’ve taken offense to the knee jerk reaction of many to recent acts of terrorism, I’ve staunchly supported continuing to help Syrian refugees. All refugees, really. I rarely get into political discussions, but this one is more human than political to me. My deep-seated belief is this:

We can’t sacrifice our humanity for the sake of our existence.

We have to keep helping people, even when there may be danger involved, simply because it is the right thing to do. It sickens me when others use a cry of Never forget! in response to acts of violence or terrorism, not to make the world a better place, but to justify their own prejudices.

And yet I still felt silly for having tried to help that woman. I wondered if I had put my children in danger, if she was really who she said she was, where that money was really going to be spent.

With a gentle nudge, my brother told me, “Anything we do that opens our hearts is not a wasted effort. You cannot control what happens in someone else’s heart, only that you yourself were kind. Why should you ever feel ashamed or foolish for having human empathy and caring for the suffering of others?”

Then I remembered something I had posted on my Facebook page just last week.

To the people who cite our nation’s hungry and homeless population as a reason to close our borders, please tell me what YOU’RE doing to help the people you call “ours.” If you’re just spouting statistics that you found on the internet from the comfort of your warm house with a full belly, I’m not listening.

And if you want to do something about it but don’t know how to help, contact Donnie/Kelly Foster (MISFITS), Street Reach for the Homeless, Samaritan Homeless Clinic (Dayton), or just head downtown with blankets and food.

If you really care that much, let’s do something about it.

You know what? I DID something about it. I don’t know how it turned out, but that’s not mine to judge. I walked my talk, and today I feel good about that. This year, more than anything, I’m thankful for a heart that sometimes has to guide my mind when I try to think too much, and for a brother who keeps me pointed in the right direction.

The next time you hear the words Never forget! be sure that what you’re remembering is how to be a better person and how NOT to let the actions of a few justify anger and hatred, no matter how scared you are.

Never forget that preserving our existence is not worth the sacrifice of our humanity.